St Helena Online

Tag: boreholes

Homes face cut-off as water boss warns: ‘We need rain NOW’

Montage by Simon Pipe from an original image by Johnny Clingham
Montage by Simon Pipe from an original image by Johnny Clingham

The water shortage on parts of St Helena is now so grave that the supply to many homes may simply be cut off.

People in Half Tree Hollow and nearby areas have been warned: “This is serious. We need some substantial rainfall now.” 

Engineer Martin Squibbs told Saint FM listeners: We will just run out of water quite soon. If we have no water, we can’t distribute water.

“We have had some rain but it’s not made any difference at all – so too little, then the hot sun comes out and dries it all up again.

Drilling for water has taken place around the island
Drilling for water has taken place around the island

“We are now in a graver situation. We are starting to think maybe we will have to shut down the water treatment at Red Hill.”

Harper’s Earth Dam was completely empty, he said.

Workers have been desperately drilling bore holes to seek out new underground supplies. Two are producing water, but not enough to meet the needs of people in the most populated part of the island.

Other areas still have a healthy supply, including Levelwood and Jamestown. But Martin, the operations director for the newly privatised Connect St Helena, said transporting water from those places would not work: the demand was too great.

He said there were no plans to reduce consumption by cutting off the supply at night.

“If people know we are going to shut off the water overnight they will just fill up containers, and probably pour them down the drain in the morning,” he said. “So we are not going to do that.”

He praised residents who had heeded calls to cut down on useage – but his praise made it clear that some people have been selfish.

“Thanks to everyone for restraint now because I had been having reports of people using water to water their gardens – water we can’t really afford to use.”

He said the normal flow from the Red Hill plant was about 400 cubic metres per day, but only 335 cubic metres were sent out on 15 May 2013, showing residents had woken up to the crisis.

The crisis has come about after months of unusually low rainfall.

Reservoirs should have been close to full by Easter, but the Red Hill reservoir was at only 42% of its capacity. A “voluntary” hosepipe ban was imposed for Half Tree Hollow and the west of the island.

Heavy rain over Easter failed to make a difference because it was absorbed by the parched ground.

Streams were drying up in Sandy Bay, but it was possible to move water around in by vehicle because the quantities involved were small. That continues.

The implications for St Helena’s anticipated tourism boom are not clear. Shelco, the company that wants to build an eco resort at Broad Bottom, has talked of re-planting the island’s lost cloud forest to encourage higher rainfall – adding to the existing efforts of the St Helena National Trust.

Martin said: “Let’s not be doom and gloom here. We are drilling for water. We have had some success, we’ve had some failures. 

“We have drilled at Molly’s Gut, which is a bit far away but possibly we could move water from Molly’s Gut.

“We have drilled opposite Philip John’s place on the road to Scotland. We tried to pump water there but the pump broke down last week.

“We didn’t hit water until we were about 30 metres down, which is quite a distance, but then we thought we could achieve about 100 cm a day. 

“If we can raise some water from the ground we can extend the life of our reservoirs.”

He said cutting off the supply could harm solar heaters – : “the panels on the roof that rely on water flowing through them to warm up and so on. If we get air in those water heaters it will cause a lot of problems so I want to avoid that.

“Householders now need to think about the implications. If we can’t get any rainfall, we are going to shut the water off. Be in no doubt about this.”

Westminster meeting: The water crisis has been raised in a private meeting at the Houses of Parliament this week. Concerns were also raised about democratic weaknesses, Freedom of Information issues, and lack of effective scrutiny of government spending. It was reported that no value-for-money reviews had been conducted on St Helena for several months because the island had been without a chief auditor.

Water hunters drill deep into island

Wet mud around a drilling machine at the head of a valley on St Helena
Mud lark: drilling for water for St Helena’s airport

Building St Helena’s first airport is evidently thirsty work. Quite apart from what the workers might drink, there’s the small matter of three MILLION litres of water that the airport itself is expected to consume during construction.

drill at work in woods
SHG’s trailer-based drill can work in hard-to-reach places

Crews are drilling boreholes to supply the airport and also the island’s own future need for fresh water. The island is said to have adequate supply for the next ten years, but new sources are likely to be be needed after that.

It’s been frustrating work for the team brought in by St Helena Government (SHG).

The first borehole at Ladies’ Bath, next to Plantation House, was unstable and abandoned. A second one in Harper’s Valley was drilled to 92.5 metres, but had too little water. The third, at Willowbank, reached 70 metres and is “very promising”.

A contractor for the airport project has been drilling boreholes in Rupert’s Valley, Fisher’s Valley and Prosperous Bay Plain, with plans to move into Dry Gut in August. It is hoped that 20 boreholes will be enough to supply the airport’s needs.

Water spurts from a new bore hole
There she blows: 20 boreholes are being drilled for the airport work

If not, a desalination plant will have to be set up on the island so that airport construction firm Basil Read can use sea water instead.

Deon De Jager, the company’s island director, said: “So far we have found water in most of the boreholes but we have not done any yield testing.

“The contract makes provision to use sea water in the inner core of the fill – and the balance will come from desalination.”

A management plan should avoid too much water being taken out of the ground.

(All information and images supplied by St Helena Government)

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